Iron Ball Mountain

Iron Ball Mountain

Daniel Bull

Created November 5, 2010
Last Modified September 3, 2023


This is a short story inspired in part by my own experiences,
but it is pure fiction. I hope you enjoy it and maybe benefit from it.

The thing is, nobody seemed to know why the place had that name, Iron Ball Mountain. But that’s what it was called. There was nothing particularly special about it. Iron Ball Mountain was just a hill in the middle of many other seemingly identical hills. Anyway, Iron Ball Mountain it was. Hardwood trees covered the hill and all the surrounding hills, stretching to the horizon and beyond. To the untrained eye looking out from the summit of Iron Ball Mountain the vista was much the same as when Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer wandered the forests of eighteenth-century New York. To be truthful, when Europeans arrived in North America the forests were unbroken for a thousand miles to the Mississippi River, except for the trails and roads that had been laid out by indigenous peoples. Now all roads led ultimately to mini-malls and convenience stores, housing developments and office parks, but Putnam County was still largely spared this ominous and disturbing fate.

A narrow dirt road ran to the top of Iron Ball Mountain from the county road below. The county road itself was just a gravel grading, barely wide enough for cars to pass in opposing directions. The road up the hill was proof that the SUV, fated to pollute the highways, roads, and byways in just a couple of decades did have a place in the scheme of things, in a perverse sort of way. Folks who lived around Iron Ball Mountain drove pickups, usually not very new, and virtually always with a gun rack, often empty, behind the driver. Though this rural paradise had luckily escaped the advantages of finance capitalism, it had not escaped the disadvantages of poverty. The gun racks were not a display of bravado, a “Don’t Tread on Me” mentality. They were utilitarian. If the locals did not poach deer, they might not eat. Although the landscape seemed still to be unbroken forest seen from the peak of Iron Ball Mountain, there was a significant population of such locals, and for them this was paradise unrealized. Paradise lost had first to be gained, and these people, mostly descendants of Dutch, Scottish and Irish who had pried the land from the Native Americans centuries before, had never gained anything much beyond hardship, although they didn’t fare as poorly as the indigenous inhabitants. These had suffered decimation from a succession of intruders, from the Dutch Patroons to the imperial British to the Founding Fathers of a democracy of the privileged, by the land “owning,” and for the wealthy, which latter did not consider women, slaves, and natives to be true humans worthy of participating in their own fate. Injuns were just cleared away, by European diseases or by malevolent intent.

Even though it was only a few miles from New York City, the whole rural area was caught in another era. The poverty of the contemporary local population, perhaps descendants of indentured slaves, or those brought to America by penal transportation, was real enough, and consequently they were a hardy lot. Many were without running water, pumping water by hand from wells. Electricity for many of those who lived in trailer homes usually was from gasoline generators. The next step up the social and economic ladder was to own or rent a house, usually built on a slab, with only a few rooms. Some of these houses had modern plumbing for water and all had septic tanks for waste disposal. Children and dogs, in increasing order of utility, rounded out the scene. Methamphetamine was still in the future.

Ironically, amidst all this poverty, Putnam County is one of the most affluent counties in the U.S. as measured by either median household income or per capita income although it was not always so and was not so at the time of this story. This affluence is due to the status of Putnam County as an exurb of New York City. Since World War II, as the wealthy of New York City sought exclusivity, the affluence of Putnam County has steadily risen. Scattered in the hollows are numerous small villages, home to commuters from New York. Tradesmen and craftsmen lived alongside the commuters and a smattering of others. The commuters who boost the income level of the county to such airy heights hold forth largely in the villages and the immediate environs. Of course, some tradesmen and craftsmen live in trailers or small houses in the countryside as well.

One more segment of society was thriving in the area. Here and there across the expanse of forest, farm, and village were the estates and lesser holdings of the wealthy or nearly wealthy. Someone, you know, had to ride the commuter trains. For the most part, these lived apart from the rest of the population; they might as well have been in gated “communities” in some upscale housing development. Some lived on ancestral properties, whether it was their ancestors’ or someone else’s. Certainly, they did not live among the general hoi polloi. Interaction with those took the form of employment of maids, housekeepers, groundskeepers, pool cleaners and so forth. But there were exceptions.

Wildlife, from bears and coyotes to voles and field mice, survived by carefully avoiding contact with humans. Deer were especially vulnerable and they seemed to have an instinctive ability to sense the approach of hunting season. Hunting season brought Great White (and black and yellow and brown but a preponderance of white) Hunters to the wilds of Putnam County. Deer took to the thickets. Those who owned farm animals had to get by on fear and trembling. The hunters did bring cash with them, and were a boon to the local economy, at least to the purveyors of liquor and especially beer. When the hunters hied themselves back to civilization, the deer had poorer defenses. Poaching was universal, and local law enforcement mostly looked the other way. Wolves and such had been systematically eradicated long ago, so humans were the only natural predators of the deer, and there were more deer than the forests could sustain. As a consequence, culling by poaching fulfilled several functions at once. The only drawback to this mode of population control was that hunters sought to shoot only the healthy, not the sick and diseased.

The road to the hilltop of Iron Ball Mountain was lined with raspberry, blueberry, and bittersweet. The trees were largely hardwoods, oak, maple, ash. The raspberry and other brambles were doing their best to crowd out the blueberries, seemingly regarding them as interlopers. Wild roses offered thorny defenses nearly as formidable as the brambles. In bad weather negotiating the road became problematical.

Sitting atop Iron Ball was Ted’s house. Well, Rosa’s and Ted’s. Actually Rosa’s. Rosa came to upstate New York from the Argentine as a young girl and grew up living in Manhattan. Her family possessed money and more money and a Park Avenue address to boot so as a result she was attractive to numerous suitors, despite her corrosive personality. One such suitor was Ted, Ted from South Dakota. Ted had followed in his father’s footsteps, at least to the extent of winning an undergraduate degree from a prestigious Midwestern university. Rosa’s families’ sentiments were that a degree from a prestigious Midwestern university provided weak credentials at best. Ted overcame his troublesome origins by earning a Ph.D. from a prestigious Ivy League university. We won’t say which one to protect the innocent. Armed with his prestigious Ivy League Ph.D. Ted was hired at an obscure Midwestern University as an Assistant Professor. Ted thought this establishment not as obscure but prestigious. In short order he was tenured with a position as an Associate Professor. As a child, Ted had aspirations of becoming an organic chemist, even though he had only a vague idea of what an organic chemist was or did but that was what his father was. He was disabused of that notion by high school. By high school Ted already boasted a couple of years of talk therapy. Talk therapy was supposed to adjust him to compensate for his father’s abuse, both physical and mental. Judge for yourself whether it worked as you follow my tale.

Ted’s father was a South Dakota native, but his mother Catherine was French. He loved his mother, and he loved her cooking even more. By the time he made it to college he was a gourmand, and according to his lights a gourmet as well. Dropped into the midst of the Scandinavians and Germans of South Dakota, those heroes who had so skillfully and remorselessly displaced the Native Americans who for some reason thought it was OK to live on land meant for Europeans, Catherine was indeed special, she knew it, and she enjoyed it. Ted’s father Hank certainly thought her special. He returned to his hometown straight from graduate school and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry and married Catherine forthwith. Academic opportunities were kind of scarce in South Dakota, at least for organic chemists specializing in heterocyclic chemistry. So Hank taught high school physics and chemistry. After all, he was a chemist, so he should find teaching both not a hardship. Ted’s therapist thought reduction to high school science teacher a probable reason for Hank’s abusive ways. That tells us something either about Ted’s therapist or about Hank, take your pick.

At his prestigious Midwestern University, Ted met Xenia. Xenia was as exotic as Ted could possibly have hoped for, or so he thought. Xenia was from Staten Island, and as far as Ted was concerned that was New York, exotic city about as far East as you could get to his thinking. Well, technically it was New York, but in those days the culture of Staten Island was nearly as foreign to Manhattan dwellers as was South Dakota. He didn’t know that at the time, and Xenia’s chief goal once she reached puberty was to convince herself that it wasn’t so. She was determined to be a New York sophisticate. To her dismay, her aspirations were insufficient to guarantee admission to any Eastern university of her choice, so she had to settle for Ann Arbor or perhaps Austin. She was disturbingly beautiful and voluptuous as well which served to increase Ted’s amorous intentions. They were also soul mates, he thought. Whatever, they were married in their sophomore year, and promptly produced two children, a son and then a daughter in quick succession. By the end of his senior year, Ted was ready to replace Xenia with the far more suitable, or at least far more affluent Rosa who was “waiting in the wings.” Of course, he had not yet met Rosa. That would come shortly when Ted and Xenia went to New York.

Ted was a prodigious drinker, and alcohol brought out the best and the worst in him. At moderate levels of inebriation, he would spout the most bizarre violent fantasies, thoughts of smashing the faces of those of whom he did not approve, who were legion. Give him more booze and he would transition to blubbering, incoherent confessions of supposed cowardice. I never saw signs of this cowardice except when he was plastered, although I never saw anything beyond verbal exercises of his violent side either. Despite his somewhat disturbing rants, Ted’s was a genuinely charismatic personality. Even as an undergraduate Ted was surrounded by sycophantic disciples, mesmerized by his glib conversation, one-sided though it was. Assorted hangers-on supplemented the more captivated in his entourage. Entourage it truly was, and Ted carefully cultivated his glamorous persona.

Most of Ted’s conversations were more like monologues and were usually either polemical or a diatribe against someone he knew, a colleague, or a student.

“Fucking Nelson doesn’t know jack about sociology.”

“Well, Ted, he is an anthropologist.”

“He’s a moron as a cultural anthropologist, too,” he said.

Fucking and fuck were Ted’s favorite words, or at least those were the words he used most. He had special contempt for anthropologists, cultural anthropologists in particular. Only a very special few garnered his favor. Although I had no training whatsoever as a social scientist, Ted held that I knew more than most of his colleagues. This was nonsense, of course. In fact Ted’s ulterior motive was surely simply to disparage his University colleagues.

Ted held a special place in his personal inferno for his undergraduate students. “To tell the truth, I spend a lot of time B-Sing them. If they believe half of what I tell them … . They don’t deserve to know anything, and they couldn’t learn anything anyway. It’s beyond their intellectual capacity, if you can call it that, to grasp even the simplest of concepts. Stupidity is the main attribute of these cretins. God I hate teaching these idiots”

“Well, Ted, you were once an undergraduate yourself,” I exclaimed.

“Yeah, well I was a fucking ignoramus, too,” Ted shouted.

Ted fancied himself an anarchist, though he lived a comfortable life and never performed a political act more radical than to march in Washington against the Viet Nam war. But he was fond of holding forth on how to fix the ills of the world until late in the night. In truth, it amounted to little more than a typical dormitory-style bull session. His bookshelves were littered with everything from the anarcho-syndicalist tracts of Georges Sorel to Andalusian and Catalonian anarchists to Che Guevara, and he knew a good portion of the radical literature of the past two hundred years. In my estimation, these opinions were sincerely held but there was no action involved.

Ted and Xenia’s progeny were to prove problematical when Ted was ready for his field work. Ted and Xenia moved to New York for graduate work, Ted in Sociology and Xenia in Social Work. Eventually Ted went to Chicago to do his field work and Xenia stayed in New York with the children. That was the end of that marriage. But by that time Ted had met Rosa.

A few years later Ted was a professor at NYU, living with Rosa, and Xenia took the kids back to the Midwest. Rosa was depressed living in the city, Ted was depressed living with Rosa, and their solution was to move to Putnam County. Rosa had passed her early years in rural Putnam County before her parents took her to New York, to Park Avenue. Ted and Rosa bought Iron Ball Mountain and hired an architect to build them their undoing on the mountaintop. I used to visit them fairly frequently when they first moved there. Many in Rosa’s extended family showed up as guests as well. What an array of characters. Alberto was a dissolute pedophile and erstwhile patron of the performing arts. He claimed to be a principal benefactor of a major New York ballet company. This was unconfirmed, of course, and on the one occasion that I asked him to help me get tickets to this ballet he refused. You can guess at his reasons, and you will know as much as I did. His principal activity at Iron Ball Mountain was bullshitting. But he was totally elegant in manner, always carrying a cigarette in a holder and with a scarf around his neck. Eduardo was young, pretty, and nearly as dissolute as Alberto. Eduardo had lots of money in a trust, but he was a master at hanging around living off the easy-going attitude he found at Iron Ball Mountain. Somehow he always seemed broke, despite his millions. Maria was also young and pretty. She played the guitar skillfully and sang like an angel. I was very nervous around her, yet I would gravitate in her direction when I had a chance. Never mind that I was rubble in her presence. Whatever elaborate subterfuge I employed to seem under control crumbled when she entered the room. It was nothing but silly, she was little more than a child, eighteen or nineteen at most, and I was a reserved thirty-six. For what it’s worth, I never so much as shook hands with her. I would sing along with her, though. In fact, singing folk and pop songs in the kitchen at Iron Ball Mountain was a popular way to spend an evening for me, Ted, Rosa (who had a tin ear), sometimes Eduardo, and as often as not a few of Ted’s graduate students or NYU faculty. NYU faculty struck me as being remarkably similar to Eduardo in their style.

Rosa was acerbic and corrosive. She had a highly developed sense of entitlement, probably arising out of a lifetime of entitlement emanating from her family’s great wealth. Although the family patriarchs lived in Argentina, their wealth was to a great extent due to huge land holdings in Paraguay. The family spoke Spanish outside the home, and German in private. Their forebears had come to Argentina well before the wave of fugitive Nazis after the defeat of the Wehrmacht, but their behavior showed their sympathies. Rosa’s parents were a little more liberal than the old folks, and that was what brought them to New York. With Rosa, you always had the feeling she was slightly condescending to essentially everyone. Her haughtiness was less than endearing of course, but her money kept her in the good graces of otherwise sensible people. I don’t think she ever had any illusions that I thought anything but poorly of her, at least I tried hard to let her know that.

Ted continued his drinking at Iron Ball Mountain, and Rosa was a competent fellow imbiber. They both had a strong affinity for marijuana and hashish. Both were chain smokers. Both were skilled verbal abusers, although Ted never abused those in the room with him. Rosa, to her discredit, had no such compunctions, although she was a facile practitioner of subterfuge. Many were the objects of her abuse oblivious of the insults leveled at them. Hell, I didn’t say she was stupid. She was clever to a fault. For me, it was impossible to feel anything appealing about her.

Rosa’s clever defenses, if defenses they were, began to crumble when she found cocaine. For Rosa finding cocaine was like finding God.

Sometimes in the middle of the night Ted would get out of bed, wake everyone else up, and announce we were going for a walk. Down the road to the bottom of Iron Ball Mountain we would traipse, following Ted, who would bellow obscenities at the night. Perhaps we were three or four; just as easily we might be a dozen or more. We never walked the county road, even though there was no traffic at all after nine o’clock or so. We would walk, often as not in pitch darkness, but other times in moonlight. I never did figure out why Ted wanted to walk the night roads of Putnam, nor could I find a reason we went with him so willingly. People just followed him, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Just as Ted could be depended upon for bellicose cursing, someone was sure to light up and the sweet smell of cannabis would follow us down the road in a cheerful little cloud. Sounds of the night would accompany our band. Owls, crickets, and the like in summer. Occasionally coyotes could be heard yelping. Usually, the howling was sent up by juveniles announcing their location to the adults. In the evening and again at dawn coyotes were known to cross the yard at Iron Ball Mountain and had even been observed sunning themselves on a rock within sight of the house. On our nocturnal hikes deer came into view as they crossed the road on their way to deer places.

Peculiar as Rosa’s family proved, Ted’s friends and guests at Iron Ball Mountain were even more so. One rather strange figure was Marvin. Marvin’s favorite activity was to sit on the sofa at Iron Ball Mountain with his right foot placed on his left knee, with the right foot twitching endlessly, and with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand simulating masturbation of the forefinger of his left. Marvin was brilliant but disturbed. I never figured out to my satisfaction whether Marvin was aware of what he was doing. Marvin’s politics were conservative, not to say reactionary. While whacking off his finger, he would regale us with libertarian claptrap, superbly elaborated. Marvin was an observant Jew, and Ted a gourmand. I remember once when Ted was preparing a ragout that included bacon in the recipe. Marvin came into the kitchen and exclaimed “What is that fantastic smell? It really smells wonderful. Let me taste it.” And he did forthwith. Ted, perverse as he was, did not attempt to dissuade him. “Ohmygawd, that‘s the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. What makes it so good?” “Bacon.” Poor Marvin bolted out the door and gifted the nearby bushes with a little bacon ragout and some stomach acid.

Soon after this, Marvin decided eating kosher was silly, not in line with his advanced views. So he started a campaign to eat some non-kosher vittles. On his next visit to Iron Ball Mountain, he brought with him a non-kosher brisket of beef and some Hebrew National hot dogs. Since Marvin was not sufficiently liberated to use a tainted cooking vessel, he also showed up with a cooking pot, a portable grill and some charcoal. He first set the brisket to boiling in the cooking pot. Next, he built a glowing charcoal bed and tossed on a couple of wieners. When the wieners were charred such that there was twice as much char as meat, he gingerly took a bite. Within a minute or two he left another gift in the bushes. He never made it to the brisket. It was fed to the dogs.

The dogs are worth a few comments. In their graduate student days Ted and Xenia had a rather pathetic mutt named Gargantua. Gargantua, who did not emanate at birth from his mother’s ear, was all of about ten pounds of stupidity. He (Gargantua) had, whenever possible, an uncontrollable compulsion to chase any car that passed in front of their (Ted and Xenia’s) house. Unfortunately, Gargantua succeeded in catching the vehicle on more than one occasion, and despite his best efforts to bite a hole through a tire, he came out on the short end of the encounter. Yet he always survived. Survived, yes, but with only one eye, a useless left rear leg, and a perpetual quivering of his body. Gargantua chased cars to his dying day, but he couldn’t climb stairs. Gargantua made it to Iron Ball Mountain, but not for long, succumbing a few months after the transition. Noble Gargantua had a successor. His successor outweighed him by about a hundred pounds, and resembled an Alsatian, though he was a mongrel. Rex inherited, by proximity I guess, Gargantua’s lack of discipline, but he knew a good thing when he encountered it, and although he was free to wander outdoors, he always came home for supper. Unlike Gargantua, Rex was nothing if not lovable. Rex will figure largely in this tale later, although Marvin will not.

Poor Marvin was tormented by so many ghosts and phantoms. He gave the impression he longed for some release from his inner demons. His attempt at release on at least one occasion took the form of threatening his father with suicide if he did not get a new Aston-Martin. His father complied, and Marvin spent the next year threatening to drive the car into an immovable object. Yet he was so jealous of this vehicle he refused to allow passengers. Bizarre as was his borderline lunatic behavior, it was impossible not to like him. I had many long conversations with Marvin, trying my best to plumb the depths of his convoluted thought processes, never with more than tiny and ultimately evanescent effect.

Some years after my adventures with Marvin at Iron Ball Mountain, I heard that Marvin had somehow been admitted to a very good medical school with the stated objective of becoming a physician. According to the story I heard, this too was to come to naught, as Marvin was arrested after shooting into the windows of a girl’s dormitory (there still were such things in those days) with a rifle his father had bought him. That was the last I ever heard of Marvin.

At the bottom of Iron Ball Mountain, on the side opposite to the access road, was a crystal-clear man-made lake. Putnam County boasted a series of such lakes formed by damming local streams. These lakes, actually reservoirs, were a part of the New York City watershed, and swimming, boating or fishing were strictly forbidden. To Ted this was a direct challenge, certainly with that lake so tantalizing nearby. More than once, when a few of Ted’s graduate students showed up for a weekend of drinking and smoking, ostensibly to talk shop with their professor as well, Ted would organize an invasion of skinny-dipping in the reservoir. Female graduate students never seemed to be among the visitors. Perhaps Ted had no female students. Perhaps they simply counted discretion as the greater part of common sense, as it were. Anyway, down to the reservoir came four or five naked bodies. As they plunged in, I invariably heard Ted disparaging some student absent from the festivities, announcing that he was not jumping in the lake because “he doesn’t have a dick.” Go figure. This was central to Ted’s weird manner of dealing with life. His students who were present never called him out on this. I never joined them in the water, possibly because I feared that, as an outsider of this professional coterie, I would be found lacking in the penile department as well.

Despite Ted’s outrageous over the top personality, of which I might have been expected to be wary, Ted and I, improbably, were best friends for some years. He had the unfortunate effect of bringing out the less admirable aspects of my personality, especially when it came to alcohol. On one memorable occasion, Ted and an anthropologist friend who had spent a few years in New Guinea decided to have a pig roast, New Guinea style. This can be compared with another feast Ted organized a year or two earlier. For this earlier event, Ted laid down a large bed of crushed stones, covered it with charcoal, and had a rabbit roast. The pig roast was considerably more ambitious. First he and his friend procured a whole pig. This is not as simple as one might think, but eventually they succeeded. My memory of the ensuing procedure has faded somewhat, especially given the quantity of alcohol I took in during the event, but I recount it to the best of my ability. First a pit was dug large enough to hold the pig carcass comfortably. A huge fire was created in the pit, logs were placed across the top of the pit, and numerous large stones were arranged on the logs. Eventually the logs started to blaze, came to a point where they could no longer support the stones, and the stones fell into the pit. Time to roast the pig. The entrails were removed and replaced with whole cabbages, and the pig was tossed into the pit atop the hot stones. More cabbages were thrown in over the pig, and the whole was covered with dirt. The idea was to let the buried pig slowly roast under the heat of the stones. After many hours, the pig was dug up to be eaten. By the time this happened, everyone was either drunk, stoned, or both, so the condition of the pig was not a subject of close observation.

To my less than trained palate, the pig tasted awful, and it was not very well cooked in any event. No one else seemed to care a whit. Except Rosa, who had turned up her nose hours earlier at the whole proceedings. By this time Rosa was well into her addiction to cocaine, and she had secluded herself in her bedroom where she did lines into oblivion. Ted went looking for her, and when he found the bedroom door locked (they were still sharing a bedroom at this time, but not for much longer) he went into a furious meltdown. For the first time in all the years I had known him, Ted became physically violent. Since Ted was a large and powerful man, he broke through the door with ease, walked to the bed, grabbed Rosa by the shoulders and demanded that she get up and join the party. Rosa was in no condition do any such thing, being just slightly this side of consciousness. Ted would have none of this, and throwing her over his shoulder, carried her down to the party. Rosa was for the most part oblivious to any of this, and this only made Ted even more enraged. The other partygoers were now alarmed and several started to edge their way to their car, not a wise move given their inebriation. But self-preservation concentrates the mind if not the body.

I was well into an alcohol haze, but I decided it was time to make an exit. I started in what I thought was the direction of the reservoir, intending to lay low for the rest of the night. I made it about twenty feet before running into a copse of rose bushes high enough for the thorns to slash not just my body but my face as well. I fell into the roses and could do no more than crawl out. I continued to the edge of the water and fell asleep. I awoke before dawn, and found my clothes torn, and my body caked with dried blood. I made my way to my car, leaving my belongings that I had brought with me behind. That was the last time I saw either Ted or Rosa until the following Fall.

Come October I visited Iron Ball Mountain once again. Now, Ted was fast friends with the man living at the foot of the hill. Ferguson and his wife and kids lived in a small white clapboard house with two bedrooms and not much else. Two large dogs were chained in the yard. There was a detached one-car garage on the property. The garage was filled with various kinds of stuff that could not be characterized as anything but junk. But it was their junk. Ferguson and his family were decidedly not exurbanites. Ferguson’s ancestral family had lived in the area from the time when it was called by an Indian name and was part of the Phillips estate. Ferguson made a less than modest living as a handyman, doing odd jobs whenever he could get them. To his misfortune, he could not get them very often. Their one economic plus was that they had no mortgage; they owned the house and property free and clear, as the saying goes.

Anyway, one day Ferguson showed up at Ted and Rosa’s door.

“Come on in, Freddie.”

“How’s it going, Ted?”

“Same old fucking shit, man.”

“I got me a three point buck,” announces Freddie Ferguson.

“Hey, man, that’s great luck.”

“It ain’t luck. I sat in a tree for four hours before the fucking thing came long. And it was another half hour before it got close enough to shoot. Nailed him right in the heart.”

“Fucking A, Freddie. That’s great luck.”

“Fuck you, Ted,” returns Freddie, slapping Ted on the back.

“Want some, Ted?”

“Fucking A, Freddie.”

Freddie went out to his pickup, and lifting a canvas tarp, revealed the body of the hapless buck. The corpse was cold, as it had been shot the previous night. Freddie had indeed waited hours in the tree. Freddie and Ted hauled the buck into Ted’s mudroom, and Freddie skinned it. With his fearsome knife, Freddie carved out a haunch for Ted, carted the rest of the kill back to his pickup, and returned to the house for an afternoon of serious beer drinking. Together, Ted and Freddie knew how to fix the world. Mostly, this comprised devising a world that did not include most of its present inhabitants, since both were misanthropic to a fare-thee-well. Freddie actually laughed a lot, and heartedly. He was a ruddy-faced giant and I was afraid of him. Not for any particular reason as Freddie was always friendly, effusively so.

Anyway, towards evening Freddie decided that between going home and staying longer and arousing the wrath of his wife Carol, the former was the more expedient course of action. Ted, Rosa, and I looked forward to roast venison. But Freddie had left the hide of the animal behind. So Ted and I grabbed a shovel and the skin, and headed for the woods. About a quarter of a mile into the trees, I dug a shallow hole, and that became the presumed final resting place of the skin of the hapless buck. Rex, who had come along, took careful notes of the goings-on.

Returning to the house atop Iron Ball Mountain, the haunch of venison, instead of ending up as a roast, was cut into steaks, and grilled to deery perfection. An evening of gentle conversation and singing of songs ensued. Ted held forth on the subject of poaching.

“Freddie shoots two or three deer a year, usually does. At least.”

“No worries about ‘doe season’, eh” I opined.

“This is fucking survival. It’s not just Freddie’s immediate family. The meat gets distributed around to all Freddie’s kith and kin. Kinship has a different meaning in Putnam than in anthropology class.”

“Well, I can’t come up with a good reason to oppose him.”

“Fucking A.”

Ted, as a professed anarcho-syndicalist, had a hard time even fitting Freddie into his personal ideological scheme of things. Rural New York was not the same as industrial France in the early twentieth century. But he had no problem conjuring rage against those who would limit Freddie’s shopping habits.

“Come the revolution, up against the wall with the motherfuckers.”

Things went along in this vein until the early morning hours. Then it was time for one of Ted’s famous night walks. As Rosa would not hear of it, it came down to Ted and me. As we fumbled our way through the mud room in the darkness, Ted suddenly let out with a furious “What the fuck?”

Ted flipped the light switch for the mud room. Trophy-like, across the doorway of the mud room was the skin of the recently buried buck. Rex was waiting just outside for words of praise for his good deed. Ted kicked the dog, to my dismay, and grabbed the skin. Back to the woods with it. Dig the hole a little deeper, cover it with stones and tree branches.

“Let the fucking dog dig that up.”

So, the night walk. Rosa was in her bedroom in a dreamy haze of narcotic bliss. Ted and I set off through the pitch-dark night, beer in hand. For once, Ted was silent, and this worried me.

“I’m going to kill that fucking mutt.”

“Maybe I’ll kill Rosa, too. She’s not much fucking good to me any more. I can’t get to her fucking money. My old man’s cut me loose, too, for that matter. Maybe I’ll just fuck her in the ass while she’s stoned. Her ass is better than her shriveled up pussy, anyway.”

Ted went on in this vein for a mile or so. I was busy making plans for my escape. In all the years I had known Ted, he had never been violent except verbally, if one ignores the incident of breaking down Rosa’s door. I remember once at a party in our younger days when Ted, full of more beers than seemed possible, collared me and pulled me to an empty room. Nervous, I thought perhaps he was finally ready to unleash the rage he more or less continually expressed. Instead, he started blubbering and sobbing, throwing his arms around me as he rocked unsteadily.

“I’m just a coward. That’s all I am. I’m scared shitless most of the time.”

“Ted, you’ve had too much to drink,” said I fatuously.

He went on this way for a couple more minutes, then he took me outside to the back yard. Astonishingly, he managed to climb a pear tree without causing his demise. From the leafy tree, he began hurling pears at various targets, with some objective only he knew, and perhaps even he had no particular task in mind. Inevitably, the pear missiles started heading my way. I sidestepped a few, and departed, shaking my head. Maybe you are wondering why I continued to relate to such a madman. Well, in his sober moments, and when it was just the two of us, Ted taught me more than any other human I’ve known before or since, or at least that’s what I allowed myself to believe in my unsurpassed naivete. What he taught me about is another matter entirely, but Ted was nothing if not charismatic. I can still hold forth on Andalusian anarchists, or on thirteenth century millennial communists. This doesn’t qualify me even minimally as any sort of social scientist, but I delusionally thought I was learning a lot.

So on we went through the night, eventually making it back to Iron Ball Mountain, and so to bed. I might have slept fitfully, but in fact I snored away contentedly.

In the morning, bleary-eyed from excess, I stumbled into the kitchen. Ted and Rosa were still sleeping. I decided fresh air was my tonic, so I headed for the door. This brought me to the mud room, and the discouraging sight of Rex’s offering, retrieved yet again from its burial. Under the circumstances, my course was clear, or so I thought. Into my car and home. I would make my apologies later by phone. This latter never happened, and Ted and I never spoke again.

About two years later my phone rang and I heard Rosa’s voice at the other end. Although she was in a cocaine blur, I still recognized her voice. She was calling to demand some articles or other that she said I had stolen from her the fateful night of the pig roast. I hung up.